By Sarah Trefethen
LAS VEGAS: From Chinese shopping center owners to the Great American Cookie Company, everyone involved in brick-and-mortar retail knew Las Vegas was the place to be this week.
Regular participants in ICSC Global Retail Real Estate Conference, or ReCon, say this year’s event was better attended and more active than any since before 2008.
With more than 30,000 participants from around the world, the show is an opportunity to meet with clients and partners old and new, close deals, take the pulse of the industry and soak up the Nevada sun.
“Everybody’s looking for the for the next new concept,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman’s retail division. “Sometimes, just coming to another city and being in a new environment, you get ideas.”
New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco are all prime targets for retailers, according to brokers at the conference.
“Any real estate assets that are on the coasts are doing better than assets that are not,” said Stephen Pearlman, senior managing director at Cassidy Turley.
In some New York neighborhoods, landlords are in a position of negotiating with tenants to relocate and make way for new retailers eager for the space, according to Jeff Roseman, executive vice president at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank Retail.
“The rents are going up in New York and demand is exceeding supply. In some of the key markets, there is no space at all,” he said.
Among the retailers Roseman sees looking for space are Top Shop, Dick’s Sporting Goods and the Japanese department store Muji. The Chicago-based sandwich chain Pot Belly Sandwich Shop has signed 15 leases in New York this year and is looking for more locations, he said.
Coming from overseas, Australian designers Tom Gunn and Oroton are looking to establish their names in the U.S. market, Consolo said, and the popular Aussie shoemaker, Ugg, is looking for yet more venues for distributing its comfortable take on footwear fashion.
After years when consumers have shied away from big-name fashion, she said, big designers including Yigal Azrouël and Carlos Miele are once again launching diffusion lines for a broader audience.
Outside the five boroughs, shopping center leasing is also strong, according to Matthew Harding of Levin Management Corporation. The company’s management portfolio of more than 500,000 s/f of malls and shopping centers, mainly in the tri-state area, is 93 percent occupied.
“The leasing market has gone up and down a little, but the past six months have been active,” he said.
TJ Maxx and Layne Bryant have been leasing space, as have ShopRite supermarkets and Kohl’s. Harding noted that Kohl’s has been particularly flexible in some of its recent leases, experimenting with space restrictions and alternative floor plans in denser neighborhoods.
The Las Vegas convention has also featured a full program of educational seminars, receptions and panels on topics ranging from capital markets to social media.
The opening keynote address was delivered by best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, famous for making social sciences interesting to a general audience. Shopping, he said, is about more than purchasing goods online with the click of a mouse.
Interact with a knowledgeable book store clerk or enjoy the architecture of a beautiful building, he suggested. “At a time and a place when we are more socially isolated than ever, that kind of interaction matters. It has meaning,” he said.
For the conference attendees, he said, that good news comes with a responsibility. “You are not just in the real estate business. You are in the business of satisfying real human needs.”